This might be the first time I’ve signed up for a race and, five minutes before I was to head out the door, stopped and said, “Why am I doing this?”
In the moment, it seemed like a dumb idea. And not just because it was raining, and it was dark out, and it was also not warm out which is especially bad when it is also raining and also dark out. But mostly because the race began at midnight, and I – party animal that I am – am usually in bed by 10:30. Then I read in bed for 15 to 20 minutes (my phone is strictly not allowed in my bedroom) before I can no longer keep my eyes open and then turn the light out before 11. I get up early every day of the week. This system has been working very nicely.
So why was I about to leave the confines of my cozy apartment at 11:15 pm to take the downtown 1 to 72nd Street to walk to Central Park to run a 4 mile race in the rain with a few thousand strangers on New Year’s Eve? I was struggling to find an answer.
Finally, as I’ve done so many times before, I decided that I’d rather have the memory of having done it than the non-memory of having not done it. It was settled. Out the door I went.
I tried to feel excited.
I’d had the idea to run NYRR’s Midnight Run maybe a year earlier, and signed up a few weeks ago. I’d run the race once before, going into 2000. That’s not a typo. Nineteen years ago. At the time, Y2K fears were prevalent, and although I didn’t think anything crazy would happen, it did feel somewhat safe to be in the middle of a giant park at midnight. That race was called the Millennium Midnight Run (I still have the winter hat we got as swag) but you won’t find the results on NYRR’s site. I emailed them at one point to ask if they had the results anywhere, and they didn’t. After some Googling, I was under the impression that another organization had sponsored the race, but another Google search just now led me to a December 31, 1999 NY Times events page that confirmed it was a NYRR race. Why NYRR doesn’t have the results for that race but have results for races going back to the 80s, I’m not sure.
Anyway, I’m old!
I was physically tired when I left and wondered how I’d run a brisk 4 miles a full hour later, but I ate two Clif Bloks and brought a Gu with me, thinking the small amounts of caffeine would help. It wasn’t pouring but it was raining steadily enough that I wore a poncho I got for free from a sports massage place. I’d only worn it once and didn’t love it so I figured I’d throw it out before the race start. At least I’d start relatively dry.
Once I got down to 72nd, I was feeling a little better. I saw a few other runners on the train and then more walking toward the park. After getting through security (something that never happens going into Central Park for a race, but I guess they were being extra cautious tonight – in this day and age they have more than malfunctioning computers to worry about), I headed to the corrals. I figured I’d jog there as a warm-up as I usually like to run a slow mile before a race, but I wound up getting there in 0.17 miles. Good enough.
There were some people milling around, although the corrals weren’t as full as they normally are for NYRR races (they’d fill up soon enough; people were either late or hiding under trees). Lots of colored lights beamed all over the place so it looked like a nightclub, only outside, and wetter.
Now, if you’re wondering, “Ari, where are all your friends? Why didn’t you spend New Year’s Eve with friends, like a normal human being? Why are you a loser who hates normal things?” First, 95% of my friends have moved to L.A. because they’re all actors and writers and it just so happens that’s where most of the jobs for actors and writers are located. Most of the friends I have left in NYC have kids and are probably in bed at 10 pm on New Year’s Eve like sane people. But mostly, I truly do not care about New Year’s Eve as a holiday. I hate loud bars. I loathe crowded spaces. I don’t care about alcohol. Watching the ball drop on TV is stupid and in person even stupider. I love running, so I figured, why not ring in the new year doing what I love?
With just ten minutes to midnight, I trashed my poncho and stepped into corral D where I struck up a conversation with a woman in shorts, telling her I wished I’d worn them myself as it actually wasn’t all that cold out. We made some small talk about running apparel and weather and she kindly took my picture.
If you noticed the woman in the background dressed as a cow, so did I, so I asked her and her sheep (lamb?) friend if I could take a pic. I figured they’d say yes because you don’t dress up as a cow and a sheep (lamb?) if you hate being noticed. They were very sweet and posed for me.
Even though it was raining, I kept taking pictures. I didn’t always get all the rain off my lens but it made for some cool effects.
Some people were wearing ponchos and would wear them for the entire race, which I honestly think is insane. I would die of sweat. Hell, if I’m going to be wet, I’d rather not be covered in plastic. But to each their own.
Finally, we had the big countdown to midnight followed by fireworks right above our heads. My phone was already in its plastic bag and in my pocket at that point. I considered taking it out to take pics of the fireworks, but then thought, does the world need more photographs of fireworks? I decided that no, it did not.
We began running.
The race started on the 72nd Street transverse and would make its way around the inner 4 mile loop of the park, heading west on the 102nd Street transverse and down the west side of the loop. Thankfully, we’d avoid Harlem Hill, the steepest section of the park. Cat Hill, the second-steepest, was in the first mile so we’d get that one over with soon enough.
I had already decided this was not going to be a casual fun run. If I’d been with friends, sure, but as I’ve already explained, I was on my own. So I was going to make this count. I was also hoping that most other runners would be treating this race casually, so I thought maybe there’d be a good chance of placing high within my age group. After looking at last year’s results I concluded there was a strong possibility I could place in the top 5 of my age group, something I’d never before done in a NYRR race.
So I spent the first half mile weaving my way around groups of poncho people until I settled into a nice rhythm heading up the east side. Once I reached the top of Cat Hill, I was running with a lot of other runners who were clearly taking this seriously, too.
It’s weird to run in the dark. I mean, there were lights along most of the path, but obviously it was much darker (and wetter) than I’m used to for a race. I watched the ground in front of me a bit more than usual. The last thing I wanted to do was slip and fall. I had visions of that happening, and of course the first thing I worried about was my dog at home. Who would go check on him while I was in the hospital? Everyone I knew was either in bed or in L.A.
Maybe I should move back to L.A., I thought, as I pictured myself in a hospital bed with a broken leg.
I kept a pretty steady pace; it was a familiar pace, as I had also run a 4 mile race on Thanksgiving. One thing I’ve gotten pretty good at is being able to judge how fast to run for different distances. Four miles is a specific feel. I like it. Faster than a 10K, a wee bit slower than a 5K. But I was breathing pretty hard. I’m not used to running at midnight.
There were a few spectators along the course cheering us on, which was nice. One guy with a friend said, “Great job, you crazy people!” To which I breathlessly replied, “Why did I decide to do this?” and they laughed. So nice to win over a crowd on your first joke.
Volunteers were handing out cups of what was either champagne or nonalcoholic cider along the 102nd Street transverse, but I opted out. I was more interested in my time. There were a ton of cups and not many runners were taking them. I wondered if they were going to have a lot of leftovers. Then I remembered: I was in the tiny group of people taking this race seriously. Probably 95% of the field was still behind me. I stopped worrying about leftovers.
By mile 3 (starting on an uphill heading down the west side), I was starting to feel beat. But I kept going, focusing on my stride and my hips and my straight back legs and whatever else I could do to get to the finish line as soon as possible. The west side of the loop is a series of rolling hills – the uphills were hard and the downhills were nice. I wasn’t really looking much at my watch (which I couldn’t see half the time anyway) but I felt like I was running pretty fast. Probably not as fast as my Thanksgiving Day race. Maybe more like a 10K pace. Fine. I wasn’t exactly going for a PR here. I just wanted to place in the top 5 or 10 of my age group, get my free bagel, and go home.
Finally, we approached the 72nd Street transverse. We rounded the bend and the finish was up ahead. I gave a little kick at the end and crossed the finish in 31.20, an average 7:50 pace. I was pleased with my results – it wasn’t anywhere near my Thanksgiving Day 7:32 pace, but with the conditions, I truly didn’t mind.
I was happy to be done. I tried to capture this with a selfie.
And they had real water at the finish.
I got a bag of pretzels, my lovely cinnamon raisin bagel, and a great apple. I didn’t want to eat a bagel at 12:30 am and decided I’d have it for breakfast the following morning. I promptly stuck it under my armpit inside my jacket. I devoured the apple and ate the pretzels on the walk back to the train.
Runners were still rounding that final bend as I headed out of the park. I wondered how toasty those poncho people were.
I walked back to the subway. It wasn’t raining that hard anymore. I was amazed at how awake I felt, although I guess running fast for 31 minutes will do that. Some revelers were on their way back home by that point, too. Luckily, the train wasn’t too crowded. I worried my bagel would get soggy so I kept shifting it under my arm. I was genuinely looking forward to having my mushy armpit bagel for breakfast.
Before I went to sleep, I checked the online results and was delighted to see that out of 207 women in the 40-44 age group, I placed 4th. I know this has more to do with the lack of effort (or lack of showing up) of others rather than any superhuman abilities on my part, but still, it’s amazing to go from years as a middle-of-the-packer to placing age group 4th in a NYRR race. I was pleased.
It took me a long time to fall asleep. I blamed the caffeine. But I felt good. I was glad I’d made the choice to head out the door.
– Time: 31:20
– Pace: 7:50/m
– Age Group: 4/207
– Women: 42/2015
– Overall: 240/3788